All posts by CyborgGeek

Stars: The Anthology – Ed. Janis Ian

Stars: The Anthology - Ed. Janis Ian The lesser-known Janis Ian – Science Fiction Fan and Writer and Editor of Stars: The Anthology

Sometimes a work goes beyond capturing one’s attention; it captures you. On occasion a book should be read more than once, savoured, with parts of it read aloud just to hear the words dance. I picked up Stars: The Anthology, edited by Janis Ian I was captivated by the beauty of language, her lyrics brought to life. Positively brilliant.

Short stories provide a fantastic introduction to any genre or as way to “shop around,” for new authors – rather like a taste test for fiction. An excellent short story can be a breathless ride into a world-building event that instantly mesmerizes the reader, with fully engaging characters, and a focus so tight, that the reader doesn’t notice the brevity of the tale.   It isn’t a stretch to write that the author of a short story has the same job as a songwriter: within a few moments, tell a compelling tale, in both a memorable and unique manner, that resonates timelessly.

So, not at all surprising, Janis Ian, one of my favorite songwriters, edited an anthology of science fiction short stories entitled; Stars: The Anthology. In her introduction she informs the reader: “I am no editor at all. I’m a songwriter…”

Janis Ian perfectly captures the reason that I am drawn to science. She writes; “Science fiction is a home for the homeless; for those of us who have spent our lives on the outside, staring through a plate glass window.” In other words, such stories allow our imagination to look at the world from a the gaze of the other – as apart from the world as is, while at the same time, searching for a means to create/explain/fix the world in order to find our place within rather than outside. Ian’s most poignant song, “At Seventeen,” embodies the outsider feeling and parallels her description of science fiction completely. What makes this particularly special to me is that Ian writes as a lesbian who experienced life as an outsider and turned to science fiction as a means to escape, something that I absolutely identify

Stars: The Anthology is one of the better anthologies that I have ever had the pleasure to read (and re-read.) What makes this something more than a standard Science Fiction anthology?   At first glance, current science fiction phenomena, a few who happen to be Nebula and Hugo Award winners, fill the table of contents — from Mercedes Lackey and Tanith Lee to Orson Scott Card and Harry Turtledove. That alone would draw me to the book. However, this anthology had a theme for inclusion: each story was inspired by one of Janis Ian’s songs.

“Inspired” by does not imply taking the lyrics and creating a story based on said lyrics. That result would be rather cheesy, in my opinion. No, the inspiration comes from what the author takes from the lyrics, emotional content, something that resonated – perhaps one particular line that seemed to lead the writer somewhere else. For example, Mercedes Lackey gleaned her story, “On the Other Side” from the lyric “Oh, but all that I remember is the children were in danger on the other side.” In typical Lackey style, she weaves a tale set in a world with following the horrors of war, with the children left in insidious orphanages of Valdemar.

Kay Kenyon takes a line from Ian’s “Society’s Child” and creates a fabulous tale, entitled “An indeterminate State” about artificial life and human downfall. Suffice it to say, the rest of the book follow suit with a plethora of amazing stories, yielding one of the better science fiction anthologies out there. In this case, “better” as well as unique. Stars: The Anthology provides an extra bonus: a link for the playlist of the all the songs incorporated. Obviously, I highly recommend this book.

Even if you are not a fan of Janis Ian, this book provides the reader with some very unique short stories written by some of the better science fiction writers of the current era.   For those readers that wonder why I’m writing this review for benefit of lesbian readers of science fiction, I believe that Janis Ian does an excellent job of capturing many of our experiences in her songs. While many of the writers included are not lesbians, their work is exemplary and befitting the lyrics of a timeless songwriter, who is openly lesbian and articulate on the experiences of being “other.”

For more information on this book, I recommend reading the article from NPR

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Lucky Bat Books with
    Rude Girl Press (January 21, 2014)
  • ASIN: B008GYTQ52
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.
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Woeful Pines – S.Y. Thompson

Woeful PinesS.Y. Thompson’s latest novel, Woeful Pines is an excellent adventure, truly emblematic of the essence of speculative fiction. Go wherever the story takes you and prepare to be entertained.

Susan Thompson happens to be one of those rare writers who devise plots that can inevitably surprise the reader. With consistently unique, clever, page turning stories, Susan reveals a propensity to push limits without stumbling into triteness — Woeful Pines, being no exception.  In this tale, Thompson aptly demonstrates the beauty of speculative fiction: writing where description begins in the author’s imagination, but finishes in the reader’s. In complex plots composed of shifting landscapes of possible worlds, alternative futures, supernatural, space travel, and dystopian landscapes, Susan can spin such miasma into a cohesive tale.

The plot of Woeful Pines can amuse the reader with a detective cum romance story while simultaneously, albeit subtly, compelling the reader to question the nature of reality. Thompson switches the novel’s landscape by weaving portals into another, darker world, without ever seeming to leave rural Kentucky. As a matter of fact, moving the setting to an entirely different world occurs while investigating a series of unexplained disappearances. The shift of setting along with of the some attributes of plot tension makes Woeful Pines illustrative of speculative fiction: it refuses simple placement into any one genre.

That is one surprise for the reader: what sort of book is this? The main character, Emily Baptiste, is investigating disappearances in rural Kentucky, which makes the book appear at first glance, a crime drama. Emily meets the local sheriff, Jenna, and a romance spark ignites. During an investigative event gone awry, a portal for inter-dimensional travel reveals the existence of vampires. However, the vampires are not of the expected sort whatsoever — now moving the plot into fantasy/horror genre, but in a refreshingly different manner. The alternative world contains a dystopian world, fraught by domination, power and corruption, replete with counter-cultural rebellion. Incredibly, such disparity is seamlessly formed into a pleasing story, which, ultimately, love requited. Remarkable!

Susan Thompson creates a complex plot, multi-faceted, and with exceptional attention to narrative and sensory imagery. The characters of Emily and Jenna are brilliant, strong, sexy, engaging heroines. The antagonists are equally well written, as the embodiment of beautiful, yet flawed females, within a society built on corruption and power. The story is wonderfully different and unique, totally worth a read, perhaps even a second one as well.

Regardless of novel genre preference, Susan Thompson manages to please with Woeful Pines.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • First published 2015
  • Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC
    (January 27, 2015)
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.

Under Devil’s Snare – S.Y. Thompson

RCE-UnderDevilsSnare Without doubt, a good writer captivates readers. An excellent writer can deftly move between comfort zones — taking readers to new, unexpected places, holding their attention, moving them into the world within the novel, veritably creating a space that they become, not just involved in, but a part of. S.Y. Thompson is just that sort of writer.

I picked up Under Devil’s Snare and as a fan of Fractured Futures, Destination Alara. Admittedly, I somewhat expected a similar speculative fiction novel from her others which involved space/time travel. Honestly, I hoped for that, since I’m crazy for science fiction oriented speculative fiction. However, Under Devil’s Snare is assuredly a more of mystery novel, and an outstanding one at that. S.Y. Thompson reminded me, blissfully, that good mystery focal novels create that urge, no, a need, to sit still and read until the very end in one fell swoop – afraid that if you put the book down, something might happen without you! I read Under Devil’s Snare, cover to cover pausing only to actually to go to the market. It really is that good – and it still is speculative fiction – just rather atypical.

So, why did the novel ensnare me? First of all, the story as a whole – a police oriented plot, with a series of murders that is neither a routine procedural or mundane. The relationship between Patricia (a U.S. Park Police Detective) and Samantha (the local sheriff), is sexy, complex, and multi-layered. Lesbian fiction that creates loving relationships that are neither overly simplistic nor merely sexually focal, to this reader, is rather a rarity. The interplay between each of the major characters have a depth and dimensionality that is intricate, layered, and genuine.

Thompson’s character development, particularly her usage of dialogue with which readers can identify and hear as authentic, I find inevitably outstanding – every one of her books has that distinction. For this read, that is a necessity, I need to experience voices of the characters as if they are present beside me. Once again, Thompson successfully achieves this.   Furthermore, Thompson’s attention to detail within setting in this book is rich, sensual, and visceral. The reader can clearly envision the community of Panthera, the scenery, the people as unique beings. As a very visual person, being able to “see” where I am inside the novel’s world is an imperative. Thompson always does this well for me – again.

SY ThompsonUnder Devil’s Snare happens to be Book Two of the Under Series, yet in this instance, beginning with book two, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage. Thompson develops the story such that I felt completely able to immerse myself easily and never feel as though I had missed anything, or was left out. However, beginning with book two compelled me to grab book one (I’m rather compulsive about such things). Now, I am even more of a fan of the series.   I look forward to continuing the journey.   Without hesitation, I highly recommend Under Devil’s Snare, by S.Y. Thompson.   Pick it up, get lost for a day or so.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Regal Crest (September 30, 2014)
  • ASIN: B00O2KZNP6

To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.

Ascension – JL Gaynor

AscensionJL Gaynor’s first novel, Drive, was a wonderful debut novel – an outstanding, emotionally compelling story. However, Ascension far surpasses her debut work and places her squarely in competition with other writers of dark urban fantasy series. She does so by clear reverence for mythos, regard for storylines that make sense as continuing series (the sisterhood of the guardianship), and by virtue of a highly compelling manner of world-creation.

Gaynor creates a space in which the reader feels at once comfortable and ill at ease. That is to say, she creates a blend of tension that deftly drives the story from a present world to the world of magic and mystery. The notion of secrets to keep avoids the trappings of potential banality, or the mundane, by creating uniqueness, along with a pace that drives the story. Furthermore, Gaynor creates intrepid characters, fostering their development along both unexpected and unique ways.

As a fan of Dark Urban Fantasies, and especially those written as series, I look forward to JL Gaynor’s next novel. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that the next book is even better than this one, as her writing seems to improve with every novel.

Ascension: A Rachel Cross Novel : an excellent, highly recommended book.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Amazon (August 10, 2014)
To buy the Kindle edition – click here.

Nicola Griffith’s Suggestions of Classic Lesbian Sci-Fi Must Reads


I admit, I am an absolute fan of Nicola Griffith.   While doing a bit of research of my own, I came upon an old blog post of Nicola’s where she shared her thoughts on Classic Lesbian Sci-Fi books.  I thought that this was well worth a share.   Taking from her blog Nicola writes:

I think the heyday of lesbian sf is still to come. I think it will be astonishingly good, partly because it won’t need to be about being queer. That battle is ending. It’s essentially won. (Lots of tidying up to do, of course.) It was a battle named and begun by the mothers of our genre. Here are a handful of the classics, from the 1970s to the 1990s. The first two are short story collections, the rest novels; I’ve talked about several of them, and others, on my enormous List of Things I Like.

  • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree Jr (aka Racoona Sheldon, real name Alice Sheldon). Stories. Some of these pieces will rip your heart out; some will make you think; some will help you see the world anew. Tiptree does love and science, dire warnings and the real world in equal measure, and she has no peer.
  • Extra(Ordinary) People, Joanna Russ. Short science fiction, including “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman,” which is, for me, the most fun hey-gender-is-a-game story ever. And I suspect “Souls” might have had a tiny bit of influence on Hild.
  • The Chronicles of Tornor, Elizabeth A. Lynn. This is a loosely connected sequence of novels starting with Watchtower. Fantasy, but no magic, unless you call love and aikido magic; I think this book influenced the way I write about bodies in the real world; it certainly paved the way for to learn aikido a few years later.
  • Gossamer Axe, Gael Baudino. Fantasy. An ageless Celtic harper forms a heavy metal band to free her lover from the faerie. Great music and magic writing. No holds barred lesbian romance (but definitely with a fantasy lineage). Fabulous. When I picked up this book I read the very first writer’s bio that said something like, Baudino lives with her lover xxxx in xxxx. (I can’t find my copy or I’d quote.) And I knew, right then, that I wasn’t the only writing dyke in the genre world who felt no need to hide.
  • The Holdfast Chronicles, Suzy McKee Charnas. Sequence of dystopian novels. The first and most important (in my opinion) are Walk to the End of the World, and Motherlines. Charnas is ostensibly a straight writer, but she gets dykes and gay boys right. I couldn’t have written Ammonite if this book, and work by Tiptree and Le Guin and Russ, hadn’t come first. The first is an unsettling dystopia, but not claustrophobic—like, say, Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale—and a ripping good read.
  • Thendara House, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Science fantasy. Set on Darkover, a recolonised world of spaceports and native polities, Free Amazons and psi powers, swords and energy weapons. Fabulous stuff. Occasionally clunkily written. It is a sequel to The Shattered Chain, but I read TH first and like it better.

27aec85513c023c3b5d6c631336a0a4a_400x400I could have chosen any of another couple of dozen, but these struck me as representing the heart of the (US) genre. (There are many wonderful UK novels—Fairbairns’ Benefits, Jones’s Divine Endurance—and Australian, and Canadian, and others.) I’m hoping readers will have some suggestions in the comments belownot just for good lesbian sf but good lists of same.

I have long lists on various genres, but when I found Nicola Griffith’s I had to share this with you.

The Alleyway and Other Short Stories – Rejini Samuel (aka RJ Samuel)

the-alleyway RJ Samuel’s collection of short stories, The Alleyway and Other Short Stories, written under her given name, Rejini Samuel is by far one of the better collections that I have read in recent years. In fact, three of the stories were short listed for an international writing competition (Over the Edge New Writer of the Year) – and rightly so. Her writing is amazing. Actually, to say “amazing” seems trite, but I lack the adequate words at the moment to fully articulate just how moved I am. RJ lifted me out of my room, allowing me to become a part of the conversations and imagery alive in each story. With each bit of dialogue, I could “hear” the speakers, the subtle dialect/accent, their unique manner of speaking.

The descriptions, so vibrant, jump off the page — I could “see” what RJ wrote. Certainly, I could give a snippet of each story, but as they are rather short, I’d be guilty of spoiling. Yet, three stories immediately stand out.   “The Alleyway” blew me away. The dialogue, allusion, emotional landscape, actually transfixed me, I truly “heard” every word as they were spoken by the characters; I could see the facial expressions; smell the aromas wafting through the alley.

I admit, that as a writer, this is what I aspire to do, and RJ inspires me.   “Amy_Grrl” made me laugh out loud, with the most apt portrayal of fear of cyber dating and her internal dialogue about the standard lesbian relationship route (u-haul after a few dates) as the biggest thing that she must now attempt to avoid – again. Finally, “A Prison of Words,” struck a chord in me as a writer, speaker, and one who often feels trapped by what and how to say what I mean. RJ captured every emotion perfectly.

RJ Samuel BiogRJ is a brilliant writer. She speaks to me as a woman living in a diverse world, as a lesbian, as an artist, and as a person who seeks to connect with others and often feels at a loss as to how to do so adequately.   I highly recommend these stories. The brought me more than a little pleasure, the warmed my heart.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 45 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Amazon (September 18, 2014)
  • ASIN: B00NPIB85A

To buy the Kindle edition – click here.

Magic as reclaiming personal power

46300ac96b3f1314ddbe0760770d5d69Why magic appeals to readers in a world where the individual lacks power.

Fantasy novels in their abundant forms require magic. Anyone reading fantasy, including speculative fiction works like that within science fiction, can discern the importance of magic as a necessary means toward transformation, creating some manner of weaponry, perhaps, or at least providing the wielder of the gift with strength. In science fiction, I believe that the magic rests in the presentation of the possibility of scientific discovery at a penultimate state, or in the revelation of humanities hitherto yet unknown potential, as in the full use of mental abilities, etc. I contend that is a form of magic. For once a person discovers those gifts, her world becomes completely altered – how it is altered becomes a facet of the plot.

I believe that works of fantasy, particularly speculative fiction, have an important function. They present fictional means of world exploration, of society as it exists at present. These novels tell the tale of injustice, explore oppression — within the skin of the oppressed. They demonstrate the horrors of violence, by showing the replication, sexualizing, and promotion of violence as a weapon in its function as a means to further oppression and marginalisation, through psychological and physical means.

So, why magic? I contend that magic provides the reader a means to imagine a means to claim her power. That is, if she possessed any form of magic, she could alter the situation before her, take control of her body, her life, perhaps, and to cease being victimized.   It seems to me that just day dreaming about the ability to time travel, shape shift, wield a spell to defend herself and/of loved ones, gives the individual a certain form of control – control of her thoughts and a means of escape, if only for a moment. The escapism provided by fantasy genres provides a means to transform oppression, become the independent female ass-kicker who takes no crap, to become who she is not in life – even if for a time. Here she can learn to transgress the space dictated by social norms and become her fantasy. Magic gives her personal power. It gives her control of her destiny – even if in her thoughts. Magic gives her hope.

When my life was in chaos, I turned to fantasy novels – ranging from traditional fantasy to cyberpunk. The common thread was the strong female protagonist. I started identifying with her, imaging that I was her, the slayer with the magic to go between worlds, have weapons that only I could use justly, and create a world better for myself and for others. These books transformed me and transformed my sense of personal power. I believe in the power of fiction to shape future of social change. That said, I believe in magic.

Drive – JL Gaynor

driveDrive, by JL Gaynor Will Take Your Imagination On a Joy Ride

J.L. Gaynor takes the reader on a wonderful ride in her novel, Drive. Gaynor’s title so aptly captures the rhythm, internal nuances of the characters’ personality, and the actual events.   The pacing of the plot flows as if the reader was on a journey with the characters, along for a ride filled with emotional ups and downs and the wrenching realism that often besets lovers.  The characters instantly captivate, particularly as Gaynor possesses a wonderful ability to evoke a realism of voice within dialogue — each character speaks distinctly, clearly, veritably articulating her own essence, with her own choice of words. A marvelous, and rare ability among writers.

Gaynor’s use of dialogue, both internal and conversationally, fills the imagination with a sincerity of emotional presence; so much, in fact, I felt as though I was with them. I thoroughly enjoyed Drive.  I look forward to checking out Gaynor’s next book Ascension: A Rachel Cross Novel as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, I have the book on the table, ready for perusal.

Gaynor’s emergence on the scene of lesbian fiction is a wonderful addition to a growing group of authors who are able to create exciting works of fiction using lesbian characters richly and deeply, and with the dexterity that any fiction reader would enjoy, not just the niche of lesbian readers.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 133 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Indi (January 13, 2014)
  • ASIN: B00HV14K84

To buy the Kindle edition – click here.

Dark Wings Descending – Lesley Davis

Dark Wings Descending

One classic form of dark urban fantasy novel twists the typical police procedural story.   In the twisted form, the police detectives tend to form a special task force whose focus rests on solving crimes of a supernatural nature. The detectives in the unit generally often take on two types: the believer (who may possess some type of magical skill) and the skeptic put in the unit as a form of punishment. Generally, crime investigation revolves around a heinous serial killer, who represents the epitome of evil. What makes this rather formulaic sort of novel compelling rests in portrayal of evil/magic in a unique manner, the skill set of the investigators as dynamic, entertaining, or provocative, and that the plot takes the reader on an unexpected path, despite following a procedural formula.

Getting that teaser on the back cover or in the front synopsis about what may emerge, with all the potential fright, demons, and a glimpse into the psyche of the kick ass detective gives the reader the incentive, the thrill to not just pick up the book, but to dive in and get lost in the plot.   Dark Wings Descending, by Leslie Davis gave just that tease, the promise of an exciting journey into deviant, realms of evil. The lure of having a two female detectives, each with her own connection to the crime, and then, of course, their intersection with one another, made the book an instant grab for this reader.

However, shortly after starting Dark Wings Descending the formulaic, procedural nature of the plot took control, offering nothing new to the genre.   Adhering to the stereotypical big city (Chicago) police department who has a Deviant Data Unit that investigates criminal behavior, speaks to the norm, rather than a twist. Having the lead inspector as a burn out, returning too early to work after an injury, thus vulnerable, as Det. Rafe Douglas does, has occurred in many other books; along with the standard serial killer who poses bodies. The book simply lacked inspiration, as well as finesse.   Dark Wings Descending offered the reader a plot that was hackneyed, in a genre that is quickly becoming passé because of the overwrought usage of such things.

A good beach read, although not much more than a Dark Urban Fantasy Police Procedural. If one seeks to get lost in a simple plot, procedural, and have a little fun with searching for evil serial killer, then the book will serve that purpose. A quick indulgence of Dark Urban Fantasy reading (because it is fun, isn’t it, to explore the psyche of the killer?), then pick up Dark Wings Descending, by Lesley Davis.   However, for something a bit more provocative, then maybe this may be a pass.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2012
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (May 8, 2012)

To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.

Out of this World – Maggie Morton

Out of this worldOut of this World
, by Maggie Morton falls short as a fantasy novel, but may be better suited as erotica with magical elements

Maggie Morton has a knack for employing magic in a rather unexpected manner in her novel, Out of this World.  The book began with a rather standard procedural scenario, with the main character, Iris, falling into another world, wholly different from Earth.   The unexpected begins in the new realm filled with magic,  but the magic seems to be more along the lines of sex magic — whether that’s intentional or not by Ms Morton, that’s what seems to be the case.

The first act of magic in the new realm, apart from steamy sex between Iris and the woman upon which she lands, Ananda, is to zap sex toys into the plot.   The rest of the plot follows a rather formulaic road through danger and adventure, although the focus stays mainly on the developing relationship between Iris and Ananda and their abundance of sexual exploits.

The use of magic and attributes of fantasy seems more like a setting for erotic intrigue than a work of fantasy fiction.

So, if the reader wishes to get caught up in a work of erotica, complete with an array of sex toys and fairly steamy, though relatively tame sex acts, then this book is recommended.   If the reader seeks escapist les-fic fantasy, replete with a magical edge, then Out of this World, completely misses the mark.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2014
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (August 17, 2014)

To buy the Kindle edition – click here.
To buy the Paperback – click here.